Believed to be the oldest person living in Biloela, Gwen Banks celebrated her 105th birthday today with a small but very special gathering of family and close friends.
Gwen was born on the 14th of October in 1917 in Coomera, the only child of Norman Wallace and Elsie Yaun. As her family lived on the land, Gwen was home schooled. Arrowroot was grown there and the Arrowroot Mill at Coomera is still a tourist attraction today.
As a child, Gwen would ride a horse through the bush to dances and change her clothes just before she arrived. She would then do the reverse for her journey home on horseback.
Gwen met Kevin Banks Snr on her parents’ farm during the Great Depression and they wed in Brisbane in 1940. After their marriage, they travelled by train to Biloela.
Kevin Snr started his own local business as a builder. Some of his constructions included the Amagraze Meatworks (now Teys Bros), Biloela Hotel, and the Catholic Presbytery.
Gwen’s first home in Biloela was in Kroombit Street, in a house built by her husband. Kevin Snr also built their next house, in Rainbow Street, where Gwen still lives today.
The couple worked together on Kevin’s business (Banks Bros, which consisted of Kevin and his brother Tib). Gwen wasn’t exactly just sitting around in those early days – she was the one who drew up most of their plans!
Gwen has six children – five girls and one boy – who she raised in her Rainbow Street home. She also has a foster daughter who still rings her every Sunday for a chat.
Gwen and her husband Kevin were always heavily involved in the Biloela community but were ‘quiet achievers’. They established the Progress Committee and fundraised, seeing the establishment of the town’s first swimming pool, cotton ginnery, sawmill, and the School of Arts.
Gwen enjoyed tennis as an adult, and she drove until she was 100 years of age.
With her Rainbow Street home opposite St Joseph’s Convent and school, Gwen welcomed many children in for a biscuit or to pick a flower from her lovingly tended garden. Although this no longer happens, her garden is still admired by many, and schoolchildren and their parents still stop and chat if Gwen is outside among her flowers. In its prime, Gwen’s garden had 67 rose bushes.
Today, Gwen still lives in her home with the assistance of carers, close neighbours and family. She spends time in her fernery and has a raised garden bed where (from her electric wheelchair) she plants and picks her own vegetables.
Gwen is a kind-hearted, much-loved matriarch. She would take meals to neighbours who needed help and, living across from the primary school, she would welcome in new teachers and their families for a meal and cake when they arrived in town.
She loved sewing and could create anything from baby clothes to wedding gowns to school costumes.
When Gwen had at least four children, she took in her asthmatic cousin, who was in upper primary, for two years.
As well as her six children, Gwen has 21 grandchildren and 31 great-grandchildren.
Why has Gwen lived for so long? For an amazing 105 years? Her family and friends attribute it to Gwen’s great kindness and a real interest in people which, in turn, fostered genuine friendships that endure forever.